Quick Hit: the Panama Papers are a feminist issue

The Panama Papers—millions of leaked confidential documents from a law firm in Panama—have exposed how some of the world’s most powerful people used offshore bank accounts and shell companies to hide their wealth or avoid taxes. Though financial secrecy and tax dodging may not be the typical rallying issues of feminist movements, as Chiara Capraro and Francesca Rhodes pointed out last week, they should be. 

In a piece over at openDemocracy, the two authors explain how the papers are alarming evidence of the scale of global tax evasion—and detail its impact on global poverty, violence against women, and inequality. “Tax havens are estimated to be costing poor countries at least $170bn in lost tax revenues every year,” Capraro and Rhodes note, and this is the money that “could be paying for schools, hospitals, childcare or services to address violence against women.”

The piece continues to detail multiple compelling reasons for why the papers should be a primary concern for feminists around the world. Among them is the fact that when governments cannot raise enough revenue from wealthy corporations, they “tend to hike indirect taxes, such as VAT [a type of consumer taxes], which affect those on lowest incomes – disproportionately women who, due to their gender roles, are tasked with balancing house budgets.” They also note that this loss of revenue has a disproportionate impact on the most marginalized—woman and especially women living in poverty—who “can benefit the most from well-funded public education, healthcare and social protection, but who are generally the first to miss out when these essential services are not free at point of use, and when families therefore have to make terrible choices about which family members are to be given priority.”

It is perhaps the authors’ final takeaway that really makes the piece an incredible read. They note that international politicians and business leaders named in papers are overwhelmingly male—and those who are worst impacted by their corruption are the world’s poorest, who are disproportionately women and girls in the Global South. But Capraro and Rhodes are quick to point out that this does not mean we need better representation, in a comment that I can’t help but connect to folks who have found representation alone to be a compelling enough reason to vote for Hillary Clinton in this election.

“[We do not need] to get to a point where there are as many female as male billionaires able to dodge taxes. Instead, we must fight for a fairer economy and a better politics in which both extreme poverty and extreme wealth are consigned to the history books, and in which women and men have equal decision-making power at all levels [...] All our leaders – women and men – need to urgently prioritise women’s rights and economic justice – this means ending a tax system which allows the richest to escape paying what is fair, and enables the investments which gender equality urgently needs.”

We do not need women rising within existing (violent) power structures, especially here in the United States. We need liberation. And that means really centering the fight for economic justice.

Header image credit: Punic Paranjpe/AFP

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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